My freshmen and sophomores took their English final yesterday. It consisted of two main parts: the objective test for the novel we just finished (To Kill a Mockingbird for freshmen and Macbeth for sophomores) and a synthesis essay. For the essay I gave them a Big Question and asked them to draw from the books they read this year in writing their answer. They were free to reference books they were assigned, books they read on their own, and books that I read to them. They were also encouraged to draw from their lives in general and their other classes. What they wrote gave me chills.
As an English teacher, of course I was looking for evidence of proper writing technique and use of grammar mechanics. I was not disappointed. My students applied the thesis generator concept that I taught them (thank you Mr. Jim Burke!) and showed over all improvement in their writing structure and voice. The essays also gave me good feedback on areas I need to focus on next year. I'm excited to start my planning with this in mind. We have a lot of work to do on GUM!
What thrilled me the most was the thinking and synthesis expressed in their writing. These kids made some incredible points and conclusions. They weren't worried about whether or not they were going to have the correct answer; they thoughtfully wrote their ideas about real life topics and made connections beyond what I had hoped.
This year my freshmen, in addition to their own free choice books, read Of Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Sarah Dessen's books and Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak spent more time circulating then on my shelves. The final unit of study in their Bible class was reading and discussing the book Stomping Out the Darkness by Neil T. Anderson. The Big Question I asked the freshmen to write about was "What is Identity? What forms our identity?" Here are just a few selections that moved me:
"This year, we read several books. Many of them included the theme of identity. The two that stood out to me the most were Stomping Out the Darkness and Speak. These both addressed different ways of looking at identity. After reading them, I came to a conclusion of my own. Identity is not what others see in you. Identity is all the pieces of your being that make you who you are and who you're meant to be." - HB
"In today's social world it is important to know who you are because if you don't, the world will try to make you into what they want you to be like in the story of TKaM. Like everyone else Tom Robinson had an identity except for the fact that he was black and the town of Maycomb had their own ideas of who he was and because of that it cost him his life.
Another instance from this year where people didn't understand what identity really is was in the book Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Turner didn't have his own identity because he was the Preacher's boy and he was watched like a bug under a microscope. The town took his identity or what little of it he had and squeezed it and stretched it until it would no more sort of like Playdoh. I see people's identity like Playdoh, its squishy therefore people can mold it into what they want it to be and add things to it." -PE
"Sometimes people do mean things to us, that can sometimes scar us for life if we let it. Most of the time, it isn't as extreme as rape, but still it can leave deep wounds in ourselves. People all around the two main characters of [Speak and Just Listen] blamed them and called them mean names, but that wasn't who they were either. They finally came to recognize this as well. Although words hurt, they don't have to control us.
Our identity is shaped by our experiences, but God can help us break through them. We can learn from them, and that helps make us who were are. For we aren't what others have said or done to us, and we don't have to live in the shadow of what we have done." - EG
"The possibilities of outside influences cover a span from family to culture and society. The first example of this is found within Romeo Montague in Romeo and Juliet. Being a Montague, he is supposed to despise all Capulets. This family influence causes him to fight with his identity as he falls in love with Juliet Capulet. He has been born into a family that expects him to be one way, but he used all of his strength to fight agains that ultimately leading him to his death..."- LP
My sophomores read The Odyssey, Lord of the Flies, and Macbeth. Their Big Questions was, "How can and individual change the world? How does the world influence an individual?" Again, I got some pretty insightful answers!
"This world is always changing. Countries, cultures, society and people are always changing. One small or large decision can change our futures and our history. So how do individuals change the world and the world change them? It all happens when an individual makes choices that not only affects others but themselves and who they allow to influence them. Individuals change the world because of the way they were brought up, who they allow to influence them and the choices they make." -TB
[following is a concluding paragraph after referencing Lord of the Flies, Unwind, and Macbeth]
"Individuals that have been impacted by the world can change the world, whether it be by being the sole believer in hope, becoming a leader to unite and protect the people, or simply chasing after their own desires. Each individual plays a small role in the alteration of "rules of the world", but they have some support from people around them that in the end enables them to reshape the world's way of thinking. In such a large world, individual merely sets the ball rolling, while the success of his/her idea rests in the other individuals who support their ideas."-RS
"In prisons there are many prisoners that might don't want do those illegal thins. But under many factors they might have to. For example, money, power, pressure, or ambition are some main factors that cause them to start the wrong things. And sometimes when you jump down to it you can't get out. In Shakespeare's act Macbeth, that is a good example of individual changing the whole country. Because of Macbeth's own ambition of power, he killed king Duncan. A king can represent as a kingdom, so when a king got killed it also means the kingdom get overthrown. Macbeth killed his king and tried to make himself king. But definitely evil power never greater than justice...
...An individual can change a person and definitely a world can change individual, but you better don't let the world change you because it also means you would be changed under different environments. If today you're under a tough environment doesn't that mean you will become tough as well? So don't let the world to shape you. Let yourself to shape the world." -ML (an ESL student)
This, to me, is a reflection of genuine learning.